15 Best Martial Arts Actresses of All Time Ranked (2023)

Are you wondering who the best martial arts actresses are?

In this article, we’ll list the 15 best martial arts actresses of all time, ranked in order starting with the best. For each martial arts actress, we’ll provide information on their background, the martial arts they know, their best movies, and their fighting style.

Best Martial Arts Actresses

Among the many talented stars in the martial arts realm, female martial artists often bring a unique blend of grace, power, and talent not encountered with male martial arts actors

So, here are the 15 best female martial arts actresses of all time, ranked starting with the best.

1. Michelle Yeoh

Photo by Georges Biard

Born in Malaysia, Michelle Yeoh is widely regarded as one of the best martial arts actresses of all time. With a background in dance, Yeoh transitioned into martial arts, where she immediately showcased an elegant and acrobatic style.

Her natural athletic ability enabled her to perform many of her own stunts, adding a level of authenticity to her performances.

Michelle Yeoh’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Supercop (1992)
  • Wing Chun (1994)
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Although Yeoh doesn’t have formal martial arts training, her ballet background since the age of 4 lends a distinctive fluidity and grace to her fight scenes.

These qualities, combined with her keen ability to mimic martial art movements, lend her performances a unique style, often marked by elaborate choreography and breathtaking stunts. 

She has also been applauded for her dramatic skills, providing depth and complexity to her characters.

2. Cynthia Rothrock

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Cynthia Rothrock, a Pennsylvania native, is a five-time World Karate Champion in forms and weapons. 

Rothrock started training in karate at the age of 13 and transitioned to acting in the mid-1980s and quickly rose to fame with her incredible martial arts skills and charismatic on-screen presence.

Cynthia Rothrock’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Yes, Madam (1985)
  • The Blonde Fury (1989)
  • China O’Brien (1990)
  • Lady Dragon (1992)

Rothrock’s fighting style in her movies typically showcases her karate and taekwondo expertise, combined with her skills with various martial arts weapons. More specifically, Rothrock has high-energy performances and lightning-fast kicks.

A notable feature of Rothrock’s career is she frequently performed all her own stunts, and in several films, she even choreographed her own fight scenes.

3. Zhang Ziyi

Photo by Georges Biard

One of China’s most famous actresses, Zhang Ziyi, has both acting prowess and an impressive martial arts repertoire. 

Despite not having formal martial arts training, Zhang’s background in dance allowed her to pick up complex martial arts choreographies swiftly.

Zhang Ziyi’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  • Hero (2002)
  • House of Flying Daggers (2004)
  • The Grandmaster (2013)

Zhang’s fighting style is characterized by the traditional Chinese martial arts of kung fu and Wushu, which emphasize fluid movements and quick, precise strikes down the centerline.

Her dance background adds an element of grace and elegance to her fight scenes, making them uniquely beautiful and captivating. 

Zhang’s roles often require her to play resilient, strong-willed characters, further amplifying her martial arts performances.

4. Gina Carano

Photo by Michael Dunn

A former MMA fighter who competed for EliteXC and Strikeforce, Gina Carano transitioned to acting after retiring from MMA in 2009. 

She quickly became one of the most recognized female martial arts actresses in Hollywood, known for her brute strength and technical prowess.

Gina Carano’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Haywire (2011)
  • Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
  • Deadpool (2016)

In her fight scenes, Carano often brings her MMA background to the fore, using a blend of striking, kicking, and grappling techniques, and also performing most of her own stuntwork.

Her action sequences are intense, physical, and full of raw power, making her one of the most realistic martial arts actresses on this list due to her actual background as a quality MMA fighter.

5. Lucy Liu

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

While Lucy Liu is best known for her roles in television and drama, she’s also a skilled martial artist who’s trained in the Filipino martial art Kali for her role in the Charlie’s Angels movies.

Lucy Liu’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Charlie’s Angels (2000)
  • Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
  • Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

In her action roles, Liu’s fighting style is characterized by the fluid movements and street-like style of fighting seen in Kali, also incorporating stick and blade fighting into her repertoire. 

This fusion of fluidity and intensity has become her hallmark, creating action sequences as stunning as they are thrilling.

Despite being relatively new to martial arts, Liu’s commitment to the craft and her natural athleticism shines through in her performances.

6. Ronda Rousey

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Ronda Rousey, former UFC bantamweight champion and Olympic judo medalist, successfully transitioned into film by bringing her formidable skills and charisma to the big screen.

Ronda Rousey’s most notable/best movies are:

  • The Expendables 3 (2014)
  • Furious 7 (2015)
  • Mile 22 (2018)

Rousey’s fighting style is predominantly judo, a martial art she has been practicing since 11 years old. 

She often incorporates throws and grappling techniques into her fight scenes, making her one of the more technically adept actresses in Hollywood.

Rousey’s roles tend to emphasize her strength and athletic ability, demonstrating a level of physicality that few can match. 

It’s no surprise to see her become one of the biggest professional wrestling stars after her retirement from MMA in 2018.

7. Maggie Q

Photo by Cameron Yee

Maggie Q, known for her roles in action-packed films and TV series, trained extensively in martial arts for her roles.

She studied wushu with Jackie Chan’s team, has training in taekwondo, and also performs a lot of her own stunts because of her athletic ability.

Maggie Q’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Mission: Impossible III (2006)
  • Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
  • Nikita (2010-2013)

Maggie Q’s fighting style in films and TV shows features a blend of wushu and taekwondo, characterized by agility, speed, and precision from her taekwondo striking, and grace and fluidity from her wushu experience. 

Her fight scenes are lively and dramatic as they’re often set against high stakes and low odds.

8. Kelly Hu

Kelly Hu is a former Miss Teen USA with black belts in karate and kung fu. 

Her martial arts expertise has played a significant role in her acting career, with many of her roles requiring complex fight scenes and a display of strength and flexibility.

Kelly Hu’s most notable/best movies are:

  • The Scorpion King (2002)
  • Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)
  • X2 (2003)

Hu’s fighting style in films often showcases her karate and kung fu training, characterized by strong strikes, kicks, and agile movements. 

9. Meiko Kaji

Japanese actress Meiko Kaji is a beloved figure in the martial arts genre whose career in the film industry began in 1965. 

She has since appeared in over 100 film and television roles, and while she doesn’t have any martial arts experience, she has the ability to perform engaging fight scenes in her well-known role as an outlaw.

Meiko Kaji’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (1970)
  • Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)
  • Lady Snowblood (1973)

In her roles, Kaji often portrays strong, vengeful characters who use a variety of weapons to their advantage. This is especially true in her 1973 film Lady Snowblood, where she’s a deadly assassin known as Yuki.

Her performances are marked by intensity and dramatic flair, which create very visually striking fight scenes. Kaji’s unique martial arts style and acting have led her to become one of the best martial arts actresses of all time.

10. Karen Fukuhara

Photo by Daniel Benavides

Karen Fukuhara, a relatively new face in Hollywood, has made a significant impact with her martial arts skills which she honed from a young age in karate. 

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Fukuhara is not only fluent in English and Japanese but also a martial arts champion in both karate and sword fighting. 

This combination of language skills and martial arts expertise has landed her significant roles and made her one of the best martial arts actresses in a relatively short time.

Karen Fukuhara’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • The Boys (2019-present)

Fukuhara’s fighting style is primarily based on her Karate training. She often plays characters with a dark edge, which lends an additional layer of intensity to her fight scenes. 

Fukuhara has been praised for her commitment to her roles, often training extensively and with a lot of energy to perfect her martial arts sequences.

11. Halle Berry

Photo by Machocarioca

Halle Berry, an actress not typically associated with martial arts, underwent rigorous training in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu alongside Keanu Reeves for her role in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

In this high-octane action thriller, she astounded audiences by performing a significant number of her own stunts and demonstrating her dedication to martial arts techniques in her roles.

Halle Berry’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Catwoman (2004)
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

In her action sequences, Berry’s fighting style is a dynamic blend of judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu where she uses a variety of throws and grappling techniques, showcasing the strategic and physical aspects of these martial arts. 

Her performances are marked by energy and focus, as she combines her natural athleticism with a deep commitment to her roles, bringing a level of realism and excitement to her fight scenes.

12. Devon Aoki

Born in New York and raised in California, Devon Aoki is an American model turned actress who’s recognized for her unique blend of strength and agility in her martial arts performances.

And while Devon doesn’t have prior martial arts training, she’s very fit and genetically gifted as her father was a former wrestler. 

Devon Aoki’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Sin City (2005)
  • DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Aoki’s fight scenes often incorporate mixed martial arts, which gives her performances a versatile, unpredictable, and more modern element.

This versatility, combined with her natural athleticism and precision, makes her a compelling presence in the realm of martial arts cinema.

13. Brigitte Lin

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Brigitte Lin, a Taiwanese actress, is known for her roles in fantasy martial arts films. She has shown impressive martial arts skills, despite having no formal training.

Brigitte Lin’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Peking Opera Blues (1986)
  • Swordsman II (1992)
  • The Bride with White Hair (1993)

Lin’s fighting style on screen often mirrors traditional Chinese martial arts, marked by swift and precise movements. 

She often plays characters that are strong-willed and resilient, characteristics that shine through in her intense fight scenes.

14. Moon Lee Choi-Fung

Moon Lee is a former Hong Kong actress, stuntwoman, and ballet dancer who trained in martial arts before every martial arts movie role she had.

From the age of 6 to 12, Lee lived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and developed her skills in Mandarin Chinese and dance – two skills that helped her land roles in martial arts movies.

Moon Lee’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)
  • Angel (1987)
  • Princess Madam (1989)

Lee’s fighting style on screen incorporates a blend of martial arts techniques, characterized by her agility and speed. 

Her fight scenes are dynamic and dramatic, with her ballet background adding an element of grace and elegance. 

She also became a known actress in the sub-genre of ‘girls with guns’, so it’s likely she had weapons training in preparation for these roles.

15. Cheng Pei-Pei

Photo by See Li

Cheng Pei-Pei, born on January 6, 1946, is a renowned Chinese actress who’s often recognized as cinema’s first female action hero.

Trained as a dancer and Buddhist by religion, Cheng transitioned to martial arts for her film roles and quickly became Hong Kong’s female martial arts star of the 1960s.

Cheing Pei-Pei’s most notable/best movies are:

  • Come Drink with Me (1966)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Cheng’s fighting style on screen is characterized by traditional kung fu, nimble footwork, and her skill with swords. She was once voted via a poll as the ‘Queen of Swords’ by the Hong Kong Press.

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